Is Utah's youth suicide rate linked to Utah's culture surrounding LGBT?
(KUTV) The number one killer of Utah's kids is suicide according to new numbers from the Utah State Health Department. Utah's youth ages 11 to 17 are dying at their own hands at the three times the rate recorded less than 10 years ago, in 2007.
There is no definitive reason for the abrupt rise in suicide among Utah youth, but there are many pointing to Utah's religious culture as a possible cause. Today The Huffington Post ran an op-ed asking the question: "Is The Recent Rise In Utah Youth Suicides Really Such A Mystery?"
Anecdotally it appears Utah's suicide numbers are soaring in part because of LGBT youth taking their own lives. Tyler Glenn, lead singer of rock band Neon Trees, is facing the issue head on. He posted a Facebook Live video yesterday. It has nearly 300,000 views.It starts with the star showing the pictures of two teen boys, one named Stockton, the other Wyatt.
"They are both gay, they are both Mormon and in the last week they have both committed suicide, " said an emotional Glenn.
He was raised a member of the LDS church and actively spoke out in support of his religion in media junkets until recently. He now is speaking out against the Mormon church and its policies regarding gay parents and youth.
"I am gay, I am 32 and I struggle weekly to find my place in this world because I struggled for so long to find my place in God's plan."
The emotional video is addressed to leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and pleads with them to change policies that reject gay youth.
"Please do not let this be the summer of gay suicides, please make a space for your gay members, please tell them they are okay and made in the image of God."
The Utah Health Department said yesterday, it is looking at recent LDS policy in connection with suicides.
"We have been closely watching our rates since various events that happened in Utah relating to the LDS church," Andrea Hood a suicide prevention specialist said.
"We have not seen an increase tied to those announcements."
The latest numbers that show 86 Utah youth took their own lives from 2012 to 2014.
These statistics predate the announcement by the LDS church in In November, when, the LDS church added same-sex marriage to its definition of apostasy.
In a story broken by KUTV, it also started excluding children of same-sex marriages from membership until they turn 18, denounce same-sex marriage, move out of their homes and get permission from the church's presiding First Presidency.
In response to Glenn's video and recent suicide number, the LDS church released the following statement through spokeswoman Kristen Howey:
Suicide is tragic, no matter the explanation or circumstance. Our hearts ache for those who face such tragedy among those they love. The Church is actively pursuing ways to help, including online resources and local leader training, and we encourage communities to continue to partner on prevention and intervention. Every soul is precious.
Youth who feel highly rejected from family members or their community when they come out as being LGBT are eight times higher risk of suicide," said Hood.
It is just one cause of concern for the health department that is looking at social media, higher elevation, how often families move and the availability of guns in homes as possible causes for the increase. Utah's Pride Center sees the problem of youth suicide risk daily and just started a support group for LGBT youth who have survived a suicide attempt.
"All of the current members are excited and positive and feel like they will get something out of this group because they continue to experience thoughts and impulses that could lead them to suicide."
The group started just last week and is already full. There will be another starting in September due to demand, according to group counselor Jillian Hill. She's already fielding calls from youth who need help, and she said individual counseling will be provided until they can join the group.
Hill, who counsels LGBT youth, said they can feel trapped and alone even before they ever come out to family and friends.
"They assume they will be rejected or assume there will be conflict even if it is not outright rejection."
LGBT youth, she said, face a greater suicide risk than LGBT adults because, "with youth they have years before they can live their lives how they want to." While at home, "they are not sure how they can be empowered to take care of themselves now" and have a hard time imagining themselves as adults living by their own set of rules.
The State Health Department refers families trying to align religious beliefs and the new found knowledge their child is gay to The Family Acceptance Project at SFSU. Hood said families don't have to change their beliefs to be supportive of their LGBT kids.The program is available to families here in Utah and nationwide.
The project is described as "a research, intervention, education, and policy initiative that works to prevent health and mental health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and youth, including suicide, homelessness, and HIV - in the context of their families, cultures and faith communities. We use a research-based, culturally grounded approach to help ethnically, socially and religiously diverse families to support their LGBT children."
Back home in Utah, the Pride Center is providing gun locks free of charge to families concerned about a loved one's mental state. Forty-five percent of Utah youth suicides were committed with a handgun. The health department is suggesting gun locks as a way to keep weapons away from someone you know and love who may be feeling depressed or suicidal. The Utah Pride Center is located at 55 E. 400 South, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT. Or can be reached by phone at (801) 539-8800.